The eyebrows of Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, shot straight up.
That’s what Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, had called the lawsuit Ortman and the rest of the Republican state legislative delegation wants Attorney General Lori Swanson to file in order to block the health care law they believe infringes on the rights of Minnesotans.
“The Constitution, frivolous?” Ortman asked after Winkler was done belittling the Republican effort.
There was much agitation and agonizing and insulting going on at the State Office Building this morning as President Obama prepared to sign the health care reform bill.
The speaking order had gone like this:
First, the Republican legislators, all of whom have signed a letter asking Swanson to join attorneys general from as many as a dozen other states in filing a lawsuit, held a 10 a.m. news conference.
GOP legislators say new law violates 10th Amendment
One by one, Republicans — including Reps. Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer, who are in a battle for their party’s gubernatorial endorsement — spoke of the evils of the health care package and how they believe it violates the U.S. Constitution, specifically the 10th Amendment.
(These references to the 10th had reporters turning to Google. Hmmm, 10th Amendment. Ah, here it is: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”)
Republicans believe that the new health care reform law, which requires individuals and businesses of a certain size to purchase insurance is a clear violation of ol’ No. 10.
“The time has arrived,” said Emmer. “It [the health care law] is a violation of everything America’s about. … This [the fight to stop the bill] is not over yet. It’s just begun. … Voters will remember in November.”
Seifert couldn’t let Emmer do all the talking.
“The bill in Washington was partisan,” he said, as his fellow Republicans nodded in agreement. “There’s bipartisan opposition but not bipartisan support.”
Emmer’s turn again.
GOP united in opposition
“This is the most united group I’ve seen in a long time,” he said as he looked at his brother and sister Republicans.
Umm, where are the DFLers in this “united” front?
“I’m disappointed that some of our colleagues from the other side aren’t here,” Emmer said.
Sometimes, the event got a little confusing. For example, WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler asked the Republicans that given their view of the 10th, if the feds have been in violation of the Constitution in calling up Minnesota Guard troops to fight in foreign wars.
There was some sputtering among the Republicans, until Sen. Ray Vandeveer of Forest Lake stepped to the microphone.
“We’re talking about health care today,” he said.
But that didn’t really end it, because Emmer said this is a bigger issue than health care.
“It’s cap-and-trade, all those things coming down from Washington,” he said.
GOP want attorney general to act
When the Republicans weren’t talking about how this bill is an infringement on all of our rights and a “clear” violation of the 10th Amendment, they were casting challenges toward Swanson, who is a DFLer.
Ortman, who has taken the lead on this issue for the Republicans, cited a section of the Minnesota Constitution, Section 801, for those who want to look it up.
“When our interests are directly affected, it’s her duty to lay aside her political agenda and do the work of the people of Minnesota,” said Ortman. She “must” file a suit.
So far, though, Ortman hasn’t been able to make her appeal directly to Swanson. She said she delivered the Republicans’ letter to the AG’s office on Monday, but the Attorney general wasn’t there to accept it.
Ortman said she stopped by the office again this morning to invite Swanson or her assistant to come to the news conference.
“Neither of them was there,” said Ortman, adding, “It was 9 o’clock. You’d think they’d be at work.”
Swanson’s office issued a statement Monday saying, essentially, that since the process then wasn’t even law yet, it’s premature to consider filing lawsuits. The statement added this zinger: “The Attorney General’s Office operates in the legal arena and we are not going to make any legal comments until we have had the opportunity to review the 2,400-page bill.”
Ortman says this business about analyzing before suing shows the attorney general isn’t even trying. She said she’s given the AG’s office “a lot of resources,” which would have helped staff there have a suit ready to go.
After the Republicans got through issuing challenges to Swanson and warning the rest of us about the “big government’s take-over of the greatest medical system in the world” — Emmer’s words — a couple of DFLers, Winkler and Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, grabbed the podium.
Winkler takes on GOP arguments
A number of Republicans stood around to hear their comments. They were not pleased with what they heard, especially from Winkler.
Not only did he call the Republicans effort “frivolous,” he had an even more damning thing to say: “The Tea Party paranoia has taken over the Republican Party. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day.”
He just kept hammering.
“Silly, absurd,” he said of the Republican demands. “This [health care] is every bit as legal as Social Security.”
He rattled off a few other areas where the feds have made requirements on the states: “OSHA, NLRB. All upheld in the courts, primarily for the benefit of all.”
And, of course, the civil rights movement.
Winkler suggested that Minnesota’s Republicans are trying to use the same “states’ rights” tactic that Southern states used in trying to block civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
“The states’ rights argument is a myth,” he said, calling use of the 10th “comfort food.”
The Republicans scribbled Winkler’s words into their notebooks and acted horrified after he was done speaking.
“States’ rights a myth?” said Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague. “That’s what he said. A myth.”
Emmer was sputtering over the use of the term “comfort food.”
For his part, Huntley tried to discuss the merits of the bill, including the financial benefits, but putting a finger on the dollars it will deliver to Minnesota still is difficult at this point. There will be gains to the budget in the short term, a bit of a hit in the next biennium, but then huge federal help to the state from 2014 and beyond, he said.
Huntley also delivered a shot at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services, which is apparently saying it will take nine months to get the “immediate” benefits of the health care reform working in Minnesota.
“Human Services can’t manage computers,” he muttered. “Give me a 12-year-old kid, a computer nerd, and he’d figure it out in two months.”
For the record, it appears that the effort by the Republican legislators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who sent a similar letter to Swanson Monday, faces tough going.
Hamline University Professor Cindy Jesson, an expert on health care law, says, “I grew up in the South, so I know the 10th.”
She does say that the new law does take steps beyond where the feds have gone before.
“It is requiring a purchase from a private party,” she said. But, she was quick to add, it would be “a huge break from precedent” for the courts to overrule the law.
For starters, the Constitution does give the feds both the power to regulate interstate commerce and the power to levy taxes. The way this health care law is set up, those who refuse to buy health insurance will be fined “through the tax code,” she said.
Her view is that the bill “has been carefully crafted” to avoid the arguments Republicans made this morning.
Certainly, Jesson indicated, Swanson has no obligation to file suit. “She represents the people,” said Jesson, not the governor nor the Legislature.
GOP foresees big election issue
For their part, the Republicans believe the health care reform law will be a big issue as the gubernatorial and legislative races unfold.
Winkler essentially said, “Bring it on.”
“People will recognize this is the party that just says ‘No,’ ” Winkler said. “They [Republicans] are going to be fighting over yesterday’s news.”
Party of “No”? That’s another line that always causes Republican eyebrows to shoot up.
“We have a lot of ideas,” said Ortman.
She was asked why, when Republicans controlled all of Washington just a few years ago, we didn’t hear about those health care reform ideas.
“I wish we had,” she said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.